Unknown Pleasures: 10 lower-profile new Steam games

fishing for GOLD

New feature! There are more new PC games released each week than any one human could realistically play, and while we try to zero in on the most interesting, many lovely things inevitably fall through the cracks. So here’s the deal: each week, I browse the teeming ranks of Steam (we’ll also be including itch.io a little later, incidentally) for ten likely prospects released within the past seven days. I play each for ten minutes, then decide whether or not I’d like to keep playing them. It’s not a review, but it is, but it isn’t, but maybe? In any case: new games for good people. That’s you, that is.

Update: this piece now includes (as it will every time henceforth) my Pick Of The Week from the ten games included.

In fact I play more than ten games each week, and investigate many more still, but some are discarded due to technical faults, some because they have not truly begun in earnest after ten minutes, and many because I love you too much to make you share my pain. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be any badduns in here, as in some cases I want to talk about something that I felt disappointed by – just that the real rot is filtered out at source. I don’t distinguish between ‘full’ release and early access unless a game is patently in a barely playable state, for what it’s worth, but I am going to exclude VR games, as currently they’re only relevant to a tiny fraction of you.

This week, I chose…

Caveblazers

Spelunky vs Diablo, in a game that feels tailor-made for the Twitch crowd. Cave systems full of baddies, treasure and platforming, but with a strong emphasis on fighting and being showered with oddball power-ups – in that, it feels a little like the Binding Of Isaac. It has a neat ranged weapon system that involves simply nudging the right thumbstick in the direction you want to fire, which means you can be firing one way while stabbing in another. The first-ever game in this feature, and already I had to fight down the urge to keep playing once ten minutes had expired, which I guess is a seal of approval for Caveblazers. (We’ll have a full review of this shortly! –Ed)

MidBoss

Kirby as roguelike – a turn-based, isometric dungeon game in which you gain new abilities by possessing your enemies, be they fantasy tropes like giant rats and bats or oddball creatures such as magic floating shields. Very charming, and the innate tension between staying alive and taking risks in the hope of possessing something new definitely gives MidBoss a distinct personality. Also: the shopkeeper is a cat who only accepts yarn as currency. MidBoss is perhaps needlessly over-complicated in some respects, and the UI’s a bit of a mess, but I’m definitely down for more of this.

50 Years

Bills itself as “cofeebreak turn-based strategy”, which I suspect is only true if you drink coffee by the gallon, but certainly 50 years is an ultra-lean take on build’n’bash. It does it by blending fantasy battles with clicker/idle game mentality – most of your time is spent on a menu screen, choosing what units or buildings to best spend resources that accrue each turn on. Efficiency is all, but to some extent it’s just a matter of waiting until the numbers get big enough to buy a new tier of stuff. In between this, hand drawnish battles are auto-resolved based on how many units you and the enemy field. Simple but compulsive, and offers a rapid sense of accomplishment. But although I might well spend a lunchtime or two with 50 Years, I don’t get the sense that it will stand up to much more than that.

Dragon Wars

A re-release of a 1989 Interplay game, from their early Wasteland and Bard’s Tale days – and which, in fact, was fully intended to be Bard’s Tale IV until relatively close to release. It’s a first-person, party-based RPG set in maze-like environments which, alas, feels entirely unexceptional by today’s standards, although it’s fairly tight for what it is. You’ll probably need to draw your own maps to keep track of your movements, which is quietly pleasing. The EGA graphics are a nostalgic hoot too. Don’t think I’ll stick with it, but I’m happy to see Steam’s ancient history archives filling up.

Mind Cubes – Inside the Twisted Gravity Puzzle

This is exactly the sort of thing we’d have gotten Quite Excited about back in 2008 or so – a 2D physics-puzzle-platformer with a twist, that being that you have to twist the screen through 90 degree rotations in order to safely navigate a spike-filled room. I found that the short levels strike a comfortable balance between hazardous and intuitive, and yeah, I’ll keep it around to tackle another room whenever I need one of my thrice-hourly writing breaks. The controls are oddly mushy though, and the inability to control your (rabbit-like) character’s angle of descent when flipping the screen causes it to fall downwards is mildly infuriating. All told: competent but very familiar puzzling, and a reasonably solid lunchbreak game.

Putrefaction 2: Void Walker

I KNOW, I KNOW. A name to run a mile from, but a clutch of positive Steam reviews compelled me to take a look despite my better nature. And, whaddaya know? This is a surprisingly OK Unity-powered first-person shooter. Don’t get me wrong, it immediately smacked me in the face with egregiously low-rent presentation, as what I am reasonably confident is one Eastern European gentleman speaking endlessly long and painful English lines for both participants of a conversation about nothing, with terrible jokes adding insult to injury.

Once that’s out the way, it’s a bit Doom and a bit Serious Sam, shooting hordes of baddies who look like The Yellow King in large and passably attractive places. The shooting is genuinely solid – heck, you can even blow individual limbs off, which is always a good time. Desperately needs new writing and new voiceover, not to mention a completely different name, but I’ve played much worse shooters from much larger studios in my time – and, crucially, I felt a bit grumpy when the ten minute timer went off.

Balthazar’s Dream

Did I say ten minutes? Silly me, of course I meant four. Look, while by and large I want this piece to constitute recommendations, I think covering a few stinkers to give a sense of the ebb and flow of Steam is worthwhile too. Case in point Balthazar’s Dream, a cod-16-bit platformer starring a dog whose owner may or may not be a ghost. I was attracted by the Amiga-esque art, and doubly by so by the option to choose which breed your dog is, but sadly the reality was an archetypal jump and fail game that wasted no time in being tiresomely obvious and joylessly exacting. If you believe the 90s Ocean games remain a high watermark of platforming perhaps you’ll derive something from this – it’s not actually incompetent at what it does – but for me it’s a stark statement that pixel art + retro mechanics alone do not a golden age make.

Dragon Bros

Another wince-worthy name, but what we actually get is a Metal Slug-style side-scrolling 2D shooter whose propensity for colourful excess lends it just a touch of the Vlambeers. It’s not doing anything enormously out of the ordinary, and doesn’t truly do anything with the fact that it stars a dragon with a gun, but it’s very well put-together – and happy to drop ridiculous enemy numbers, over-powered weapons and slick dexterity challenges on you pretty much from the get-go. The opposite of Balthazar’s Dream above, in that it takes retro values and infuses them with verve rather than merely goes through the motions. Oh, I should mention that it’s also got a co-op mode that I was not able to squeeze inside my ten minutes.

Ophidia

Already featured in Free Loaders late last year, but now on Steam with a modest (and deserved) pricetag and extra modes. It’s Snake with a Nordic myth skin and a more dream-like atmosphere – focused less on the tense avoidance of your own tail and more on the active pursuit of it, as closing a circle around the various beautifully-illustrated wildlife captures them, causing you to grow. Get big enough and you can circle a ‘boss’ creature to complete the level. Different creatures require different strategies, and in this it reminds me of the wonderful Spider: The Secret Of Bryce Manor – puzzle-solving is very much about learning behaviours rather than lateral thinking. Tranquil and pretty, and definitely one I’ll stick with.

Lock’s Quest

Gameboy Advance (best-ever Nintendo system: fight me)-style JRPG meets tower defence game. It’s ever so slightly like Orcs Must Die, in that your character fights in tandem with your various turrets, although this has discrete build and combat phases. It’s a fascinating and surprisingly natural mix – where JRPGs so often do little with space during combat, this is all about using the battlefield to your advantage, and as such it could avoid the numbing repetition that many traditional JRPGs are known for. All that said, it is guilty of the numbing run-on text that many traditional JPRGs are known for, so I wasn’t able to see many battles during my brief time with it. My strong sense is that it’s onto something, and could well be a successful hybrid of disparate genres. I’ve always enjoyed tower defence, but the straight level-based structure does get old – placing it within a flowing campaign is an appealing idea for sure.

So that’s the ten games – and something else I’m going to do each week is pick one stand-out favourite. This week it’s….

MidBoss!

I liked this a lot. It would benefit hugely from a UI overhaul and some streaming of its more advanced mechanics, but it’s really onto something with its shapeshifting/possession concept. Having your character ever-evolve rather than simply slowly improve is a refreshing take on dungeoneering, and MidBoss is extremely personable game to boot. I will definitely be returning to it.

More next week – covering games released from today onward. If you want to leave tips for anything you dig during the seven days to come below, I can certainly check ’em out.

(And yes, I realise that, long, long ago, we used ‘Unknown Pleasures’ as a title for a series of IGF interviews, but if the cap fits…)

55 Comments

  1. Epicedion says:

    Just a little shadowplay to tide you over until the new dawn fades? This will probably end in total disorder. I love the new feature, but love will tear us apart, guys. Get Alice to write a few unless she’s lost control.

    • Threstle says:

      I am totally a candidate for this kind of article. But, honestly, I read this yesterday, and, after twenty four hours, I remember nothing worthy of interest. It felt more like an atrocity exhibition, though I tried to like some with all my heart and soul. It’s nice to have insight into some lesser known games, but maybe some should be left in the wilderness. Some games are meant to last decades, but those here are not meant to be among the eternals.

      • Scraphound says:

        So glad you don’t call the shots!

        This is brilliant and a long time in the coming. Who needs to see the top of the charts? They’re the top of the charts! We see them there everyday.

        This is useful and I don’t think k anyone else has hit on it yet as it actually takes a bit of work digging through Steam’s lesser known gems.

        I never would have known about Midboss. I’ll take a ballsy, small budget game like that over AAA Trendfest 4: The Rehashing

        • stu_cam says:

          I fear you have missed the point here.
          Although, in Isolation, the above comment may seem harsh, Exercise One in rockpapershotgun is to be on the lookout for posts that are written more for Novelty than as A Means To An End.
          Sometimes the best option may be to walk in silence.

        • try2bcool69 says:

          PCGamer has been doing 5 new Steam games you might have missed, every week for like a year now. This is just double of that. Which is good, I guess. Double the shovelware, double the fun, as they say.

    • AmazingPotato says:

      It must be day of the lords because dead souls colony passover!

      Oh no, I’m doing it all wrong again :(

  2. Zarkonnen says:

    I very much approve of this new feature. With ever more games on Steam, doing the work of highlighting interesting stuff that didn’t have a marketing push, or some “influencer” backing, or random plain luck.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Waltorious says:

    I just wanted to say that this is a great idea for a feature! I look forward to the itch.io highlights as well, since I like to support that storefront when I can.

  4. Deadly Habit says:

    Should give Nongunz a look as well, sunk quite a few hours into that since I picked it up.

  5. DingDongDaddio says:

    I haven’t had a chance to play Caveblazers since it launched earlier in the week, but the game was super solid in Early Access. A great choice for a meager $10.

  6. Beefenstein says:

    Aww dammit thank you for this, something to point at the decent games amidst the absolute ocean of releases is megawelcome. Also you reminded me I bought Caveblazers (Cavernjackets?) last year and now it’s time to play it again!

  7. Kingseeker Camargo says:

    Well, I guess it falls on me to be THAT guy: Judging by the colour palette, the graphics in Dragon Wars are CGA, not EGA.

    • rocketman71 says:

      Yes, that screenshot is CGA, but the screens in the Steam page are EGA.

    • Premium User Badge

      MajorLag says:

      Well you saved me the trouble of being that guy this time around.

    • Spaceman Moses says:

      It also has a map feature, so no handwritten maps, and is incredibly open world – you can escape the initial area by (iirc) fighting through the guards at the gate, selling yourself as a slave, leaving through the underworld, or I think, being lobbed over the walls as a pretend dead body (that might actually lead to your death, it’s been 20 odd years). Very much an adventure game in an RPG body.

  8. abobo says:

    Nice feature. I’m generally unaware of a game’s existence unless you guys write about it or it shows up in a bundle or a substantial sale.

  9. Captain Narol says:

    Love this new feature. I had noticed 50 years and added it to my wishlist, but i’m probably gonna remove it.

  10. benkc says:

    Lock’s Quest is a port of an old DS game, FYI.

  11. Premium User Badge

    Dorga says:

    I don’t know if the GBA was the best Nintendo handled,but it sure has my favourite line up. Get to Itch.io sooooon preatty please!

  12. Shazbut says:

    I want to add to the chorus of people who approve of this and want more. Thank you

  13. Person of Interest says:

    I’m glad you’ve chosen to do these mini-reviews every week. Good curation of under-marketed games is hard to find. And since you’re already playing them anyway, looking for WIT candidates…

    Free Loaders is a great series, but its subjects are more experiments than full games. (And I get enough enjoyment from Brendan’s summaries that I rarely feel the need to download and play it myself.)

    • Blastaz says:

      I’m going to be THAT guy.

      Good curation is no dev’s right. Certainly not from Steam. Marketing is their responsibility.

      If a team produces a great game but don’t tell anyone about it so it flops, that is just one bit of their business plan they forgot.

      That said, interesting feature. Given that it’s the first it might be worth highlighting some recent games. I’ve currently enjoyed Domina, a gladiator management game, and Terroir, a wine sim, although I’m pretty sure I heard about the latter from RPS…

      • bonuswavepilot says:

        Sure, marketing is the dev’s responsibility, but when the marketplace is as ludicrously crowded as it is for games, it is very easy to miss stuff the first time ’round, particularly if the publisher has not got the budget to make a lot of marketing noise, or they are just unlucky with timing and their release gets drowned out by a bigger-budget title launched at the same time.

  14. Jac says:

    Enjoyed this and look forward to the next collection of Weekly Steameers.

  15. Thirdrail says:

    I like the idea of this article. It’s become so difficult to peruse new games on Steam that I have turned to pirate sites just to get accurate lists of new games, which I can then google, leading me back to the Steam page I can’t get from Steam directly. I’m really starting to hate Valve…

    Anyway, this is a great feature, please continue doing this.

  16. Premium User Badge

    subdog says:

    Great new feature!

  17. GunnerMcCaffrey says:

    More of This Sort of Thing

  18. purex. says:

    Fantastic feature! Now to put my stock in reincarnation so I can barely have enough time for all these games.

  19. desophos says:

    I love this! Looking forward to more of this series!

  20. Ejia says:

    I knew Lock’s Quest sounded familiar!

    Also, clearly the DS is the best Nintendo handheld because it has access to all the GBA titles (as long as you have the backwards-compatible ones).

  21. temujin33 says:

    Dude! You want to sift through all the Steam releases for me?!?!? Awesome!!! Thankyouthankyouthankyou! Exclamation.

  22. April March says:

    *stands up suddenly*

    Yes. This is what RPS should do. It shouldn’t talk about what are the games that are the most sold and played in Steam. I mean, it should, but not as a regular feature. There’s already a site that does this: it’s called literally every single other videogame site. I stayed on RPS because it champions the weird, the unique, the unparallelled. I knew this would be my favourite site when, years ago, you gave Space Funeral a spot in the Advent Calendar. So this is what I expect of RPS. This is what I want. Well done.

    *applauds*

    • Robert The Rebuilder says:

      Seconded. Lose the Top Ten weekly article, gain this instead.

  23. Premium User Badge

    picniclightning says:

    Cool idea for a weekly feature!

  24. JR says:

    I’m super happy to see this as a new weekly feature. Thank you!

  25. Gomer_Pyle says:

    It looks like Alec has finally been freed from the shackles of the Steam Charts and has gone on to a better place.
    (Not that I hated the Steam Charts or anything, but I think this is a good idea for a new feature.)

  26. cpt_freakout says:

    Also here to applaud the new feature – thanks!

  27. JaguarWong says:

    As someone who once played every single game available on MAME to find the stuff that never gets tried about this feature is right up my alley.
    Good job.

    • bonuswavepilot says:

      Did you write up your findings anywhere, or can you recommend some titles here? I am also an enthusiast of emulating forgotten arcade titles, but I have nothing like the required patience to trawl that massive list of MAME roms.

  28. tasteful says:

    this! post! rules!

  29. Stone_Crow says:

    Loving this feature already

  30. Premium User Badge

    Styxie says:

    I’m liking this format, despite a clear lack of anything remotely resembling a Vengabus. My only suggestion would be that if there’s something which is *really* worth more than ten minutes, then it could get a WIT or Have you played.

  31. AngoraFish says:

    Yes, more of this please

  32. Alien426 says:

    Regarding Balthazar’s Dream:
    I don’t know why people keep thinking it’s a good idea to make a platformer with a quadruped. Yes, you can probably get around the whole “landing on a ledge with just the front/hind legs”, but it will always look less natural than with bipeds.

  33. Scandalon says:

    Interesting timing on Dragon Wars, as it’s part of this months Digital Antiquarian:

    link to filfre.net

    (Warning, well researched and well written, that site is worse than TVTropes for some people, like me ;)

  34. Premium User Badge

    wonderingmonster says:

    Lovely new feature.

  35. Saarlaender39 says:

    Nice new feature!
    And definitely more interesting to me, than the recently deceased Steam Charts.

  36. BathroomCitizen says:

    COOL!

  37. Premium User Badge

    iris79 says:

    awesome! Can’t wait for itchio to be included with added JD references

  38. Scott Constantine says:

    Liking this a lot. The short blurbs about each game make it easy reading, and doesn’t spoil actually playing the games.

    Alec, should the well on Steam ever dry up (hah!), I would recommend also having a gander at the part of the RPS forums where folks promote their own gaming projects:

    link to rockpapershotgun.com

    There’s been some quite successful released titles on there, and it’d be a good way to show they’re not just posting into the void.

  39. MikoSquiz says:

    New feature, best feature. I would immediately bookmark-bar any games website that did this and only this, day in and day out.

  40. davec1 says:

    Great stuff, please keep these coming! Always love to read about hidden gems and quirky stuff, and even flawed games based on a good idea are far more interesting (to me) than reading for the umpteenth time whether GTA V is now number 1, 2, or 3 in the Steam charts.